When the adult voices of our childhood are primarily warm, kind, encouraging, hopeful, validating, soothing and nurturing, we begin to develop a supportive voice within that can restore us to emotional balance when needed. As we mature into adulthood, this supportive voice becomes the voice of what I call our Inner Nurturer, our main source of validation, approval and reassurance.
One thing most emotional eaters have in common is that their childhoods didn’t feel particularly nourishing. Even if their caregivers were loving and caring, often there just wasn’t enough quality listening, good attunement, soothing, empathy or compassion. Well-intentioned parents can often miss the mark if they themselves didn’t learn these skills somewhere along the way. Parents struggling with illness, financial or social challenges or single parenthood may find it difficult to consistently meet their children’s needs. Depressed or anxious parents will inevitably have a more challenging time comforting and soothing their children.
When this inner nourishing voice doesn’t get properly internalized, we will find it difficult to comfort and soothe ourselves. We are much more prone to look outside of ourselves for comfort and “use” things like food, alcohol, drugs, sex and even drama and work to distract ourselves from the pain.
To add insult to injury, if our caregivers were judgmental, critical, unkind or shaming, the dominant voice inside our head will most likely be that of a harsh Inner Critic. By taking on our caregivers’ critical voices, we’re adopting a distorted view of our selves and others. This voice beats us up and leaves us feeling lonely and unworthy. This voice tells us that we are basically inadequate and never “good enough.” We enter adulthood with a sense of insecurity and low self-esteem. We regularly feel unworthy, inadequate, lonely, anxious and depressed.
What does the dominant voice in your head sound like? Nourishing, most of the time? Critical more often than not?
If you find, like so many emotional eaters I work with, that the dominant voice inside your head is that of the Inner Critic, and generally not that nourishing or nurturing, here are a few steps you can take to:
Develop the Inner Nurturer voice:
Step #1: Think of someone (you don’t even have to know them personally) you find nurturing. This could be a mentor, teacher, spiritual guide, friend (past or present), or even someone on television or radio. What about this person’s voice or demeanor was or is nurturing? Is it their caring tone, eye contact, kind face, affectionate manner? Write down exactly what you find nurturing.
Step #2: Now think of a situation in your life that you are struggling with–it might be your eating, weight, self-image, work, relationships, etc. Try on this nurturing voice and say something to yourself that is kind and nourishing.
Situation causing distress: You’ve been overeating and have gained weight. You’re beside yourself with frustration.
Inner Nurturing voice: “I know you’re feeling frustrated right now over this weight gain. And that’s understandable. You’ve been going through a difficult time and needing comfort and food is always quick and available. But I want you to know that I’m here for you and can give you the comfort and care you need. You don’t have to turn to food.”
Situation causing distress: A long-term work project is ending and you’re feeling anxious about finding another great gig.
Inner Nurturing voice: “I know you’re really worried about the future. This is a transitional period and it’s normal to feel anxious. I’m here with you, and here to tell you that you’re going to find a really great next job. You’re very talented and good at what you do. And you’re doing all the right leg work. I believe in you. It’s only a matter of time.”
It will take consistent practice to internalize an inner nurturing voice. It will not magically appear in your skill set. Take the time, daily if you can, to write down the words of your Inner Nurturer. Over time, this voice will be the dominant voice in your head. This voice can quickly restore you to emotional balance and reduce the tendency to turn to external sources for comfort.
If you’re having trouble coming up with nurturing things to say to yourself, it may be because the dominant voice in your head is that of the Inner Critic. Here are a few steps you can take to:
Silence the Inner Critic voice:
Step #1: When you attempt to “try on” the voice of the Inner Nurturer, catch any critical, judgmental thoughts that pop up and write them down.
Step #2: Reframe these thoughts with energizing, positive, uplifting thoughts.
Critical thought: “I’ll never get this weight back off.”
Energizing reframe: “I’ve lost the weight before and I can do it again. I can start with being kind and loving to myself. That relaxes me and I eat less when I feel better about myself.”
Critical thought: “I’ll never find a project as good as this one. It was a fluke that I found such a good gig.”
Energizing reframe: “There are many wonderful projects out there.There is no shortage of good projects. The universe is abundant. I am skilled and talented at what I do and will find the perfect next project.”
Step #3: Notice how you feel when you think more positive thoughts. Most likely, you feel more relaxed and hopeful. This translates into eating less.
Take the time needed to build the voice of the Inner Nurturer and shrink the voice of the Inner Critic.The results will show up in all areas of your life.
Posted by Julie M. Simon, MA, MBA, MFT. If you have a question or comment you’d like to see addressed in this blog, please go to www.overeatingrecovery.com.